Hollywood restaurant chef-owner: trafficking and animal abuse allegations - The Hollywood Reporter


A chef at Hollywood hotspot Horses has been issued a restraining order against her husband and restaurant partner after accusing him of physical, emotional and financial abuse over the past decade and detailing incidents in which he allegedly tortured and killed up to 14 animals.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge extended Liz Johnson’s May restraining order against Will Aghajanian to June 5. In January, he filed for divorce from her.

Aghajanian denied the allegations in a court filing, saying he was the victim of Johnson’s “long-term abuse brought about by our relationship.” In January, he was denied a restraining order.

In his petition, Aghajanian accused Johnson of lying about the animal abuse allegations. He said she hurt her dogs.

“I’m afraid that Liz might hurt or kill our pets,” he wrote, noting that Johnson kept one of her dogs in a wine fridge at Horses for up to six hours a day while she worked. “In Liz’s DVTRO, she falsely accuses me of doing or threatening to do to me and my pets.”

The critically acclaimed Horses, which opened in October 2021, has evolved into a clubhouse for guests from entertainment, fashion and the arts. The address, a block east of the popular Harmony Gold screening room, used to be a popular Hollywood pub called The Pikey. It was previously home to Ye Coaches & Horses for more than seven decades, attracting the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Burton and Quentin Tarantino (who is said to have dreamed up dialogues). pulp Fiction on his cocktail napkins). Since opening, the “Horses” reboot has been attended by the Hollywood A-list.

Aghajanian’s filing says the couple met a decade ago and recently married and bought a home together. They were about to open a New York restaurant called Froggys as well as an unnamed Chinese restaurant behind Horses.

On Wednesday night, just before this story was published, Horses posted a message on his Instagram account stating that Aghajanian has been on leave since November 2022 and has not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant since then. “Led by Chef Liz, our incredible teams both front and back work to continually make Horses what she always envisioned – a place of joy and celebration.” Horses has no further beyond that statement Comments.”

In her petition, Johnson said she and Aghajanian had cats that “mysteriously died,” including one in 2017 that was placed in a shelter. When told it had been badly mistreated, Johnson said she believed Aghajanian when he denied harming the animal.

“Then last month we got another kitten who wouldn’t approach Will after a few days,” she wrote.

After the cat suffered “major cuts and an abscess on the head” which Aghajanian said was caused by her dog, Johnson claimed she saw him manhandle her. “I caught Will shaking the cat violently late at night and he died the next day,” she wrote. “Will throw the dead cat in the trash and insist on leaving the body inside.”

Johnson claimed Aghajanian killed or abused up to 14 animals.

“I was a victim of mental and emotional abuse, so when he denied killing those animals I believed Will – he insisted I was crazy for questioning him and told me to keep quiet,” she wrote. “I now realize that Will tortured and killed those animals.”

Aghajanian noted in his request for a restraining order that Johnson texted her, “I’m going to kill Pancho, one of her three dogs, and make him eat ‘Pancho oil pills!!!!'” In another instance, she said : “Pancho is dead” and “I killed him dead.”

In their respective petitions, both sides accused the other of physical abuse.

Johnson described an incident where Aghajanian “physically dragged my legs across the floor while I was screaming and trying to resist.”

“This general scenario has happened many times: Will gets so angry that I fear for my safety, so I try to lock myself in a safe room away from him. When that happens, he usually doesn’t let the argument subside and pursues me, using anything in his power – including physical force if necessary – to get past the locked door and into the room so he can continue abusing me.”

In another instance, Johnson said Aghajanian “grabbed my hand and curled each of my fingers back toward my wrist,” causing her to sustain injuries over a period of time.

A display accompanying Johnson’s request for a restraining order shows a picture of bruises on her arm.

Aghajanian, meanwhile, claimed Johnson was trying to use the domestic violence allegations “as leverage to get me out of our businesses,” according to his petition, which said he was no longer receiving important business updates and out of the restaurant been locked out. He said Johnson was lying and physically abusing him and threatened to kill him.

“Liz intentionally burned me several times over the years,” he wrote in a court statement. “For example, in July 2016 at Mimi Restaurant, Liz overcooked the chicken, got angry with me when we talked about it, and placed a metal spatula on the hot, oily skillet, then pressed it against my forearm, severely burning it. and leave a scar.” (Mimi is a French bistro in downtown New York City.)

On another occasion, she allegedly stuck a spoon in a fryer and branded it with it, leaving a scar.

Aghajanian produced a statement from his mother, in which she said she saw Johnson “smack Will on the torso in anger during an argument.” Sam Burchett, his friend and mentee, also told the court that Johnson physically and verbally abused him while they were working at the Catbird Seat in Nashville. “I’ve seen Liz regularly kick Will’s legs or shins, step on Will’s feet, and regularly punch or shove Will,” he wrote. “That’s what happened when Will asked Liz a question or told her how a dish could be improved, and her reaction would be to get angry and out of control, yell and yell at Will, followed by a physical assault on Will.”

Court filings detail a dysfunctional environment at Horses after Johnson was granted a restraining order requiring them to keep a 10-foot distance from each other and only discuss work-related topics. At one point, Johnson allegedly called him a “coward” in front of one of her chefs to get him to break the order.

“Then she said, ‘This is my house,’ again referring to the restaurant to evoke a negative reaction,” he wrote.

Johnson reportedly told the kitchen staff that Aghajanian was a sex addict and animal abuser and would not be returning to work at the restaurant. This, he said, undermined any credibility he had with the staff as they took full control of Horses.

Johnson said Aghajanian has been harassing her family and colleagues to “find out where I am and what I’ve been telling them about him (and find out what I know).”

“He physically cornered one of the chefs at the restaurant where we work to get her to tell him where I was and what I had told her,” she added. ‚ÄúPeople at our place of work say he’s become manic; An employee threatened to quit for being so scary and threatening to find me and find out what I said. He also now threatens to kill himself; I’m afraid he’s going to hurt someone.”

Johnson and Aghajanian were jointly nominated for Rising Star Chefs by the prestigious James Beard Award Foundation on their previous project, the Catbird Seat. Johnson had also recently received a James Beard nomination for her work at Freedman’s in Silver Lake before starting Horses, which quickly became a coveted reservation.

In August 2022, Horses faced a previous round of controversy with Eater reported that influential New York restaurateur Ken Friedman, who had settled sexual harassment lawsuits, had advised on the project and was a minority partner. (The couple denied his ongoing involvement.)

May 17, 9:05 p.m.: Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Johnson had filed for divorce from Aghajanian. He filed for divorce from her.



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